To Your Health: Down Low on Vitamins & Supplements!

To Your Health: Down Low on Vitamins & Supplements!

Part-time Telluride local, Dr. Alan Safdi, is a world-renowned internist and gastroenterologist with encyclopedic knowledge of mind-body wellness and preventative medicine. He posts regularly on Telluride Inside… and Out under the banner of “To Your Health.” His blogs feature the most current information in his field: health, wellness and longevity.

Links to Dr. Alan’s podcasts and narratives on COVID-19 are here.

This week, Dr. Alan talks in depth about vitamins and supplements in a series of 5 podcasts.

Podcast 1: Introduction to vitamins.

Podcast 2: Are multivitamins beneficial?

Podcast 3: Can vitamins prevent cancer?

Podcast 4: Should you take Vitamin C and K? What are the benefits?

Podcast 5: Which vitamins should we take?

Vitamins and supplements, additional information:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than half the populations of adult Americans take multivitamins or other dietary supplements. The best way to get your daily intake of nutrients is through food, however, supplements can help fill in the gaps.

In regards to vitamins too little is bad, but too much also carries significant risks. If you’re surfing the Internet for dietary supplements and find a site that claims its products can diagnose, cure, mitigate, treat, or prevent a disease, surf right off to another site. According to the FDA, such claims are off-limits.

When you’re looking for multivitamins and supplements, check to make sure the bottle has a USP (United States Pharmacopeia) or DSVP (Dietary Supplement Verification Program) stamp; both organizations ensure the label information is true. And you can review vitamin brands online at

As always, make sure to discuss your personal health with your doctor before taking new vitamins or supplements, but here are some things to know when considering that choice.


Eat enough carrots, sweet potatoes and other beta-carotene-rich foods which will convert in the body into vitamin A, important for healthy vision and good skin.

Vitamin B-12:

Vitamin B-12 helps keep nerve cells and red blood cells healthy. A deficiency can lead to fatigue, weakness, memory loss and other nervous system problems. Seafood and beef are good sources; vegans often take a supplement.


Prevent osteoporosis and maintain healthy bones by eating enough dairy or dark leafy greens like broccoli and kale, as well as sardines. If you supplement, don’t take more than 500 milligrams at a time, and pair it with vitamin D for absorption.

Vitamin E:

This antioxidant prevents free radicals from damaging cells in the body. You will find it in good fats – vegetable oils, sunflower and other seeds, and almonds – as well as in supplements. Two analyses have linked as little as 400 IU a day to a small, but statistically significant increase in mortality.


Folic acid is a pregnant woman’s best friend, preventing neural tube defects such as spina bifida in babies. According to the National Institutes of Health, everyone should be getting 400 micrograms a day via breakfast cereal, dark green vegetables, legumes, citrus fruit juice, bread or supplements.


Critical for the proper functioning of red blood cells and the prevention of anemia, iron should ideally come from dietary sources, including lean meats, nuts and green leafy vegetables. But if you’re anemic, your doctor might recommend a supplement. Too much iron can also be very dangerous for people with a disease called hemochromatosis.

Omega-3 fatty acids:

Natural anti-inflammatories, these acids may also help keep your heart healthy. You’ll find them in fatty fish, like salmon and tuna, as well as fish oil capsules. (You can find plenty without that fishy smell.)


Potassium can lower blood pressure, counteract too much sodium, and even out irregular heart rhythms. Look for it in bananas, raisins, leafy greens, oranges and milk. Consider a supplement if you’re taking a diuretic for a heart condition (which can deplete potassium), or if you’re at risk for hypertension and heart disease. Check with your doctor, though: too much potassium can be harmful to those with kidney disease.

Some significant risks of mega dose vitamin supplementation:

Long-term use of high doses of vitamin B6 and B12 supplements has been associated with an increased risk for lung cancer. These are doses that can only be obtained by taking high-dose B vitamin supplements which are many times the U.S. Recommended Dietary Allowance. Overall, men who took these high doses over 10 years had a 2- to 4-fold increased risk for lung cancer compared with men who did not take such supplements. The risk was particularly elevated among smokers. However, no such increase was seen in women.

Those findings come from the Vitamins and Lifestyle (VITAL) cohort study and were published online on August 22, 2017 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology. If massive doses of individual supplements of B6 and B12 do indeed promote cancer, it will not be the first time megadoses of vitamins have been seen to cause harm. Nutrients that are likely to prevent cancer when eaten in the form of foods can cause harm when taken as purified supplements.

The National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements suggests that men age 51 years and older need B6 at a dose of 1.7 mg daily; women, 1.5 mg daily. For B12 the recommended dose for adults is 2.4 µg daily.

In this study, men who were taking the highest dose of vitamin B supplements (and who were found to have a two-fold increased risk in lung cancer compared with men not taking supplements) had been taking B6 at 20 mg daily and B12 at 55 µg daily for 10 years.

Beta-carotene is the precursor form of vitamin A, which is found in fruits and vegetables. Eating plenty of fruit and vegetables containing beta-carotene can help to prevent cancers, but taking high dose supplements is linked with an increase in incidence of lung cancer in smokers.

Clinical trials were designed to validate the protective effect of beta-carotene in populations of cigarette smokers at high risk for lung cancer. Strikingly, an increase in lung cancer resulted following beta-carotene supplementation in two separate studies in Finland and the United States.

Examples of “superfoods”:

During the past several decades, certain kinds of produce have been touted as superfoods.

Berries. In 1991, scientists at the National Institute on Aging and the United States Department of Agriculture created the Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity (ORAC) to measure the antioxidant status of foods, with cocoa, berries, spices, and legumes coming out on top. These data were used to promote blueberries and other foods, even though the science was shaky. (Not all antioxidants combat free radicals.) Nevertheless, blueberries are very nutritious and considered a superfood.

Fish. Rich in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, as part of a balanced diet fish can help prevent cardiovascular disease.

Greens. Dark, leafy greens are an important source of fiber in the diet. They also contain vitamin A, vitamin C, calcium, and phytochemicals or plant chemicals that furnish the plant with color, flavor, and odor. Research findings suggest that phytochemicals could help boost the immune system, reduce inflammation, prevent DNA damage, and slow cancer growth.

Cruciferous vegetables. Members of the cabbage family are referred to as cruciferous vegetables and include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, collard greens, kale, radishes, and turnips. They are rich in fiber, vitamins, and phyto-chemicals.

What are some of the best vegetables you can eat and why? 

1. Spinach

Spinach is a leafy green vegetable. It is also a great source of calcium, vitamins, iron, and antioxidants.

Due to its iron and calcium content, spinach is a great addition to any meat- or dairy-free diet.

One cup of raw spinach is mostly made up of water and contains only 7 calories. It also provides the following nutrients:

• Adult’s full daily requirements for vitamin K

• High amounts of vitamin A

• Vitamin C

• Magnesium

• Folate

• iron

• Calcium

• Antioxidants

Vitamin K is essential for a healthy body, especially for strong bones. It improves how well the body absorbs calcium.

Spinach also provides a good amount of iron for energy and healthy blood, and a good level of magnesium for muscle and nerve function.

It is also rich in antioxidants. Research reports that spinach leaves may lower blood pressure and benefit heart health.

How to eat spinach: People enjoy spinach raw in salads, sandwiches, and smoothies. Cooked spinach also has significant health benefits and is a great addition to pasta dishes and soups.

2. Kale

Kale is a very popular leafy green vegetable with several health benefits. It provides 7 calories per cup of raw leaves and good amounts of vitamins A, C, and K.

Kale can benefit people with high cholesterol. One small study reports that men with high cholesterol who drank 150 milliliters of kale juice per day for 12 weeks experienced:

• A 10 percent reduction in low-density lipoprotein, or “bad” cholesterol

• A 27 percent increase in high-density lipoprotein, or “good,” cholesterol

Other research suggests that kale juice reduces blood pressure, blood cholesterol, and blood sugar levels.

How to eat kale: People use baby kale in pasta dishes, salads, and sandwiches. Also, try making kale chips, or juice kale for its heart-healthy benefits.

3. Broccoli

Broccoli is an incredibly healthful vegetable that belongs to the same family as cabbage, kale, and cauliflower. They are all cruciferous vegetables.

Each cup of chopped and boiled broccoli contains:

• 55 calories

• The full daily requirement for vitamin K

• Twice the daily recommended amount of vitamin C

Eating plenty of cruciferous vegetables can reduce the risk of cancer, which may be because these vegetables contain sulforaphane. In animal research, sulforaphane reduced the size and number of breast cancer cells and blocked tumor growth.

How to eat broccoli: Broccoli is very versatile. People roast it, steam it, or fry it. Some blend it into soups or eat it warm in salads.

4. Peas

Peas are sweet, starchy vegetables that provide 134 calories per cooked cup. They are also high in:

• Fiber, at 9 grams per serving

• Protein, at 9 grams per serving

‘• Vitamins A, C, and K,

• Certain B vitamins

Green peas are a good source of plant-based protein. Eating them is an effective way for vegetarians and vegans to boost protein intake.

Peas and other legumes contain fiber, which supports good bacteria in the gut to ensure regular bowel movements and a healthy digestive tract.

They are also rich in saponins or plant compounds that may provide antioxidant and anticancer benefits.

How to eat peas: It can be easy to keep a bag of peas in the freezer and eventually use it to boost the nutritional profile of pasta dishes, risottos, and vegetable curries. Or make a refreshing pea and mint soup.

5. Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes are root vegetables that provide 103 calories and 0.17 grams of fat per medium potato, when it is baked with its skin.

Each potato also contains:

• Much more than an adult’s daily requirement of vitamin A

• 25 percent of their vitamin C and B-6 requirements

• 12 percent of their potassium needs

• Beta-carotene, which may improve eye health and fight cancer

Sweet potatoes may benefit people with diabetes. This is because they are low on the glycemic index scale and high in fiber, so they may help regulate blood sugar.

How to eat sweet potatoes: The easiest way to enjoy a sweet potato is to bake it in its skin and serve it with a source of protein, such as fish or tofu.

6. Beets

One cup of beets contains 58 calories, along with:

• 442 milligrams of potassium

• 148 micrograms of folate

Beets and beetroot juice are great for improving heart health. This vegetable is high in heart-healthy nitrates. A small-scale 2012 study reports that drinking 500 grams of beetroot juice significantly lowered blood pressure in healthy people.

These vegetables may also benefit people with diabetes. Beets contain an antioxidant called alpha-lipoic acid, which might be helpful for diabetes-related nerve problems, called diabetic neuropathy. Drinking beetroot juice can help lower blood pressure.

How to eat beets. Roasting beets brings out their natural sweetness, but they also taste great in salads, sandwiches, and juices.

7. Carrots

Each cup of chopped carrots contains 52 calories and over four times an adult’s daily recommended intake of vitamin A in the form of beta-carotene.

Vitamin A is vital for healthy eyesight, and getting enough of this nutrient may help prevent vision loss.

Certain nutrients in carrots may also have cancer-fighting properties. A 2011 study reports that carrot juice extract may kill or inhibit the growth of leukemia cells.

How to eat carrots: Carrots are an extremely versatile vegetable. They work well in casseroles and soups, and they provide great health benefits when eaten raw with a dip such as hummus.

8. Fermented vegetables:

Fermented, or pickled, vegetables provide all the nutrients of their unfermented counterparts, as well as a healthy dose of probiotics.

Probiotics are beneficial bacteria that are present in the body and in some foods and supplements. Some researchers believe that they can improve gut health.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, probiotics may help with the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome. They can also prevent infection- and antibiotic-induced diarrhea.

Some good vegetables for fermentation include:

• Cabbage, to make sauerkraut

• Cucumbers, to make pickles

• Carrots

• Cauliflower

How to eat fermented vegetables. People eat fermented vegetables in salads and sandwiches, or as a side dish.

9. Tomatoes

Although tomatoes are technically a fruit, most people treat them as a vegetable. Each cup of chopped raw tomatoes contains:

• 32 calories

• 427 milligrams of potassium

• 24.7 milligrams of vitamin C

Tomatoes contain lycopene, which is a powerful antioxidant that may play a role in cancer prevention. Research suggests that lycopene can help prevent prostate cancer. The beta-carotene in tomatoes also has anticancer effects.

Other potent antioxidants in tomatoes, such as lutein and zeaxanthin, may protect vision. The Age-Related Eye Disease Study reports that people who have high dietary intakes of these substances have a 25 percent reduced risk of age-related macular degenerationHow

How to eat tomatoes: People can eat tomatoes raw, but cooking them releases more lycopene.

10. Garlic

Garlic has long been used in both cooking and medicine. Each garlic clove contains just 4 calories and is low in vitamins and minerals.

Garlic is a natural antibiotic. A compound in garlic, called diallyl sulfide, may be more effective than two popular antibiotics for fighting the Campylobacter bacterial organism, according to a lab-based study from 2012.

How to eat garlic: Heating garlic reduces its health benefits, so it is best to eat garlic raw in bruschetta and dips.

11. Onions

• 64 calories

• Vitamin C

• Vitamin B-6

• Manganese

Onions and other allium vegetables, including garlic, contain sulfur compounds. These may help protect against cancer.

In other research, men with the highest intakes of allium vegetables had the lowest risk of prostate cancer. Also, regular consumption of onions and other allium vegetables may reduce esophageal and stomach cancer risks.

How to eat onions: It is easiest to include onions in meals such as soups, stews, stir-fries, and curries. For maximum antioxidant effects, eat them raw in sandwiches, salads, and dips such as guacamole.

12. Alfalfa sprouts

Each cup of alfalfa sprouts contains only 8 calories and a good amount of vitamin K.
These sprouts also boast several plant compounds that contribute to good health, including:

• Saponins

• Flavonoids

• Phytoestrogens

Traditionally, specialists use alfalfa sprouts to treat a range of health conditions, such as arthritis and kidney problems. However, researchers have conducted few studies into their effectiveness for these conditions.

Animal studies have suggested that alfalfa sprouts may have antioxidant effects and may reduce inflammation.

Eating sprouted legumes may have extra health benefits. Studies suggest that sprouting, or germinating, seeds increase their protein and amino acid content.

Germination may also improve the digestibility of alfalfa and other seeds and increase dietary fiber content.

How to eat alfalfa sprouts: Alfalfa sprouts are best enjoyed in salads and sandwiches.

13. Bell peppers

Sweet bell peppers are commonly available in red, yellow, or orange varieties. Unripe, green peppers are also popular, but these taste less sweet than other colors. Bell peppers are popular as a raw or cooked ingredient.

A cup of chopped red bell peppers provides:

• 39 calories

• 190 milligrams of vitamin C

• 0.434 milligrams of vitamin B-6

• Folate

• Beta-carotene, which the body converts into vitamin A

Antioxidants present in bell peppers include capsanthin, quercetin, and lutein (in the green variety), which protects vision.

How to eat bell peppers: Bell peppers are extremely versatile. Add them to spaghetti dishes, scrambled eggs, or sandwiches, or serve them raw with a guacamole or hummus dip.

14. Cauliflower

One cup of chopped cauliflower contains:

• 27 calories

• Plenty of vitamin C

• Vitamin K

• Fiber

Dietary fiber boosts a person’s heart and gut health, preventing digestive issues and reducing obesity.

Cauliflower and other cruciferous vegetables contain an antioxidant called indole-3-carbinol (I3C). I3C may reduce cancers of the breast and reproductive systems in both men and women.

Much like broccoli, cauliflower contains another potential anticancer compound: sulforaphane.

How to eat cauliflower: Pulse raw cauliflower in a blender to make cauliflower rice or turn it into a pizza base for a low-calorie, comforting treat. Alternatively, people may enjoy cauliflower in curries, or they may bake it with olive oil and garlic.

15. Seaweed

Seaweed, also known as sea vegetables, are versatile and nutritious plants that provide several health benefits. Common types of seaweed include:

• Kelp

• Nori

• Sea lettuce

• Spirulina

• Wakame

Seaweed is one of the few plant-based sources of omega-3 fatty acids docosahexaenoic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid. These fatty acids are essential for a person’s health and are mostly present in meat and dairy sources.

Each type of seaweed has a slightly different nutritional profile, but it is typically rich in iodine, which is an essential nutrient for thyroid function.

Eating a variety of sea vegetables provides people with several important antioxidants to reduce damage to the body’s cells. Many types of seaweed contain chlorophyll, which is a plant pigment that has anti-inflammatory properties.

Brown sea vegetables, such as kelp and wakame, contain another potent antioxidant called fucoxanthin. Research suggests that fucoxanthin has 13.5 times the antioxidant power of vitamin E.

How to eat seaweed: Where possible, choose organic seaweed and eat it in small amounts to avoid introducing excess iodine to the diet. Enjoy sea vegetables in sushi, miso soups, and as a seasoning for other dishes.


Eating vegetables every day is important for health. They provide essential vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, such as antioxidants and fiber. But beware if you’re taking vitamins or mineral supplements to fend off chronic disease in place of a nutrient-rich diet.

It just doesn’t work.

The truth is, we’re malnourished. Our house of bricks is missing the mortar: nutrient-rich foods. Americans eat less than two servings of veggies a day and just a single serving of fruit. Rarely do we choose the more vitamin-rich legumes or whole grains over refined breads, white rice and pasta.

Research consistently shows that people who eat the most vegetables have the lowest risk of many diseases, including cancer and heart disease. So the solution is simple. Eat nutrient-rich foods like veggies, fruits, legumes, whole grains and seeds. These foods pack in the vitamins and minerals we need, plus a whole lot more.

Take your ordinary grapefruit. It combines fiber, beta-carotene, vitamin C and folic acid with hundreds of other phytonutrients like flavonoids and limonoids. The way these nutrients interact leads to health benefits that don’t occur when each is taken in isolation.

It’s no wonder then that study, after study, after study finds eating plenty of veggies and fruits prevents the chronic diseases we fear most: diabetes, heart disease, dementia, even cancer.

Nutrient-rich foods offer us something beyond abundance. They give us the health that supplements can’t provide. There’s no substitute if you want a long, active life.

Enjoy a range of vegetables daily to reap as many health benefits as possible.



No Comments

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.